We were more than a little amused some time back when somebody asked in one of the art licensing forums if there was a course available on How To Be An Art Licensing Agent.
Seriously? You're going to learn how from a book?
After paging through a few of the new licensing magazines that are just out, I am starting to wonder if maybe that course IS out there somewhere because I am amazed at the number of new agencies that are popping up. Seems that somewhere along the line it has been decided that, after trying their hand at art licensing, the next logical step is for an artist to become an agent. Certainly some of them are eminently qualified to do the job, and everybody has to start somewhere, but there is an underlying promise being made by any licensing, or branding, illustration, editorial, media, etc. agent: that they are qualified to perform in this role and have the market knowledge, experience and relationships IN PLACE to justify their cut of the royalties. It used to be that the main concern in selecting an agent was whether your styles (personal and artistic) matched up well enough so you could work together, however now I think you are better off starting with “are they qualified to do the job?”
I don’t want to say this is only artists, we are seeing brand agencies, former execs from big licensors/licensees, previous art directors and more deciding to represent art properties for licensing. I’m going to call it the Agency Bubble. Again, some are going be great at it and others will definitely be learning as they go. I am not completely sure there is a severe downside for a newbie artist signing up with a newly minted agency other than losing that time it takes, in years not months, for a new agent to build their business. (I prefer to believe that a person who feels qualified to act as an agent has accumulated enough experience so they will not be dispensing bad advice on contracts or markets. I would prefer to believe that…). I do realize how difficult it is for most artists to get an experienced agent to respond – we’re as guilty as the rest - but you need to think long and hard about whether that justifies going with someone you are not sure of.
Inexperienced people taking even less experienced people’s money is always cause for concern, so do me a favor and examine, carefully, the reasons you are signing with any agent.